The 2021 Grade 1 Keeneland Turf Mile
It is easy to talk about the big wins and scores and at one point or another most, if not all, of us do it. I remember them all, but we know this game takes us through the highest highs and lowest lows, regardless of what part of it you are in. One thing I learned long ago is that you have to take the good with the bad. I remember the tough beats and I talk about them as much as the wins. Two that will always stand out are Swain for the Pick 6 and Pick 4 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I hit both with Awesome Again, but Swain meant so much more and how he lost still stings. Another one is needing Dancing House for the whole Breeders’ Cup Pick 6 pool, which was just north of a cool mil, the year my other single Beholder won the Distaff. Dancing House was a 20-1, or thereabouts, single and she did go on to win stakes, albeit on the dirt later but that didn’t help.
Timing is so much in all aspects of life. I think the beat I will discuss today has as much to do with the timing of it, and how it occurred, as the monetary loss alone. The very large majority of my Saratoga memories are great, and the meet has been generous to me consistently over the years. This particular day, things did not fall my way although for a minute or two I believed they did, and thus I know how I would have felt had it played out that way.
It was Travers day 2008. I was having a rough time and a rough meet. The life of a professional player has more ups and downs than that of a conventional lifestyle, and this was definitely a down period in every way imaginable on and off the track.
Worry, who me? No way. I could right the ship with one big and bold correct move and that is precisely what I planned to do. I had done it many times before and I was going to do it again, and this was the day.
I loved Mambo in Seattle in the Travers. He was the horse that was going to save the day. I was sure he would win, but my question was how to bet him to maximize the score, which I needed to do. Betting to win wouldn’t do it. The field was big which helped the exacta probable payoffs, but I was torn for who I liked to finish second. The pick 4, had a big pool. If I ended with Mambo in Seattle as a single the pay outs should be good, as the first three legs were pretty wide open, in my opinion. I thought if I could stay alive to Mambo, and I get a little lucky in a leg or two leading up to the Travers, I could really get back on track. Funny how this game is, I never even considered the prospect of him losing. I just needed to stay alive as he was going to win the Travers.
I drove to Calder to bet and planned to watch from home, as I often did back then. I called my Dad and told him to watch and to root, but not to give me any results or to call me. I would be driving home during the races and wanted to watch without results. He said he won’t say anything if he called, but I told him that his voice would give it away. He knew what it meant to me.
My budget, which pretty much was all there was between me and poverty, allowed for an $10 pick 4 with Mambo in Seattle the only single in the last leg the Travers. Just to help the cause a bit, I also bet two exactas with Mambo in Seattle over both Colonel John and Harlem Rocker. There was no reason to reverse either one of them. I knew the winner, I just had to have the right second horse.
I made it home about two minutes to post for the Travers. I couldn’t watch it live as I had to watch the other three legs first. It was tough, but that was how I wanted it.
Porte Bonheur at something like $25 was just the start I needed, and I felt I was already in a good spot after the first leg.
Shakis at something like $10 or $12 kept me going but second place finisher War Monger who was my top choice would have been nicer. I was not complaining.
After a $15 winner kept me alive and the Pick 3 paid around $1800 for two dollars I thought I was in good shape.
I fast forwarded to the walking into the gate. I didn’t even pause for the will pays into the Pick 4. I had a $10 ticket alive to Mambo in Seattle and that was going to be sweet. I also had the two exactas which would ice the cake if I was right.
The race ran just about how I thought it would through the early stages. Mambo in Seattle was pretty far back but by the time they hit the backstretch they were bunching up in front of him which is what you want if the pace is slow, which it was.
On the turn Robbie Albarado let Mambo go and he made a big wide move into contention and my eyes were on him. He didn’t get a call yet from Tom Durkin but he looked like he would be right there to me.
In the stretch I could tell it would be close, and the horses it was between were the ones I needed. Mambo was coming wide with Harlem Rocker and Colonel John. Colonel John and Garrett Gomez had saved all the ground and were running big. But, Robbie avoided a lot of bumping by being so wide and had the momentum. He was going to get up, he was coming, he made it and I knew it. Tom Durkin called it too close to call, but I knew I won. Robbie Albarado knew it too and pumped his fist. I figured it had to be about 75 or 80K for the pick 4 and maybe another 10 or 12K for the exacta.
While watching the gallop out I called my Dad to celebrate. He answered very solemnly. I became concerned about him immediately and asked what was wrong.
He said, “Did you see the race?”
“Yes, we won,” I said.
“No, he didn’t he got beat,” he replied.
“What are you talking about I just watched it, he won, Albarado pumped his fist. Are you sure?”
“He expletive lost,” he said.
I fast forwarded to real time, “What! It can’t be!”
The highest highs and lowest lows.